|Outgoing Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines president Nereo Odchimar shows the pastoral statement issued by the group where they expressed apology for the 'pain and sadness' caused by the issue involving the Philippine Charity and Sweepstakes Office and some bishops.
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) apologized to the public on Monday after 7 bishops were accused of accepting luxury vehicles and large donations from the Philippine government during the Arroyo administration.
In a statement issued by outgoing CBCP President Nereo Odchimar, the CBCP urged the public to go slow in judgment especially since the bishops accepted the vehicles and financial aid with the public good in mind.
"There is no doubt that everywhere in the Church, there is great sorrow. We, your pastors, are one with you as shepherds struggling to love you like Jesus, the Good Shepherd. We are sorry for the pain and sadness that these events have brought upon you. We are saddened that many of you, especially the poor, the youth, our basic ecclesial communities, have been confused by the apparent inconsistency of our actions with our pastoral preaching," the statement read.
"As we express our sadness we also ask you to be slow in judgment and conscientiously seek the whole truth behind the controversy," it added.
The CBCP noted that the Mother Church has been deeply wounded by the controversy that erupted in the past 2 weeks. It added some Church members believe in the innocence of the bishops while others do not.
Critics have said former President Arroyo used the donations to curry favor from the Catholic Church after she was accused of massive vote fraud and other corruption scandals.
In its statement, the CBCP said the bishops concerned are ready to accept responsibility and face the consequences for their actions "if they are proven unlawful, anomalous and unconstitutional."
It noted that the acceptance of donations and vehicles from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office were done "without malice out of their sincere desire to help people."
The CBCP acknowledged that the bishops "failed to see the pitfalls these grants would lead them."
Finally, it said the CBCP is ready to do everything necessary "to heal this wound so we can all move forward in hope," and that collaborations with government bodies for the purpose of helping the poor will be re-examined so that the highest ethical standards are observed.
The pastoral statement titled “A Time of Pain, A Time of Grace,” was made after the CBCP’s three-day 103rd plenary assembly, which ended Monday noon.
Among those present in the meeting were Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales of Manila, retired Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, and former CBCP head Archbishop Angel Lagdameo of Jaro.
Five of the seven bishops involved in the controversy were also present. They were: Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, Abra Bishop Leopoldo Jaucian, Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad, Bontoc-Lagawe Bishop Rodolfo Beltran and Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos.
The other accused, Archbishops Romulo Valles of Zamboanga and Ernesto Salgado of Nueva Segovia, did not attend the meeting. Salgado is reportedly in the US for an appointment.
'Are PCSO funds gambling money?'
In a press briefing, Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez said the CBCP has a clear stand that it will accept donations as long as it does not come from gambling, whether legal or illegal.
"Ang [Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation] funds, sugal yun kaya di talaga puwede. Pero ang PCSO at ang lotto, hindi malinaw kung sugal ba at kung pasok ba ito sa stand ng CBCP. Kaya kailangan linawin at pag-usapan ito ng aming grupo," he told reporters.
He also said the CBCP is not bearing a grudge against the Aquino government over the controversy.
For its part, Malacañang welcomed the CBCP's statement and said it is hopeful that its partnership with the Church when it comes to charity work will not be affected by the issue.
Monsignor Juanito Figura, CBCP secretary-general, said the CBCP did not order the bishops to return the vehicles because these were not donated directly to the group. He said the CBCP will respect whatever decision will be made by the bishops.
He said only 6 of the 7 bishops will appear before a Senate investigation since Salgado is still in the US.
Palace welcomes CBCP statement
Malacañang welcomed the CBCP's statement that the bishops are ready to face a probe and the consequences of their actions.
Deputy Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the Palace hopes the government's partnership with the Church when it comes to charity work will not be affected, saying the government needs all the help it can get.
On the new CBCP leadership, the Palace is hoping that the communication lines between the Palace and the Church remain open as it has been under the previous CBCP leadership as seen in the Reproductive Health (RH) dialogues.
Meantime, Malacanang does not see any problem if Congress probes PAGCOR's use of its intel funds. Valte said the Palace supports moves that would promote transparency. -- with a report from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News